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Nine Things You Need To Know About Eurovision’s Exciting Changes Written by and on March 11, 2024 | 2 Comments

The European Broadcasting Union have announced changes to the Big 5 and host country in the Semi Finals, Grand Final voting lines and the Rest of the World vote. Ewan Spence and Ben Robertson get together to find what things you need to know about these changes and how they impact on the Eurovision Song Contest. 

The team behind 2024’s Eurovision Song Contest have announced a number of changes to the voting and presentation in Malmö.

The Big Five and our hosts Sweden will perform live in the Semi Finals they are voting in. These performances will be part of the main running order of the night, mixing in their performances with those countries looking to qualify for Saturday’s Grand Final.

Voting in the Grand Final will now commence as the first song starts, not as the last song finishes. And for viewers in the Rest Of The World category (ie they are in a non-participating country), they have an additional voting window that takes place in the 24 hours before the Grand Final begins.

Let’s break these down and what they mean for the artistic and the competitive side of the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö.

Putting The Automatic Qualifiers On An Equal Footing

With the Big Five countries of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, plus our host Sweden, gaining an automatic qualification through Saturday night, there’s no logistical need for them to be on screen before then. Yet, in terms of competitiveness, acts that go through the Semi Finals have more visibility with the public, the artists have more stage time, and crucially, they experience a full auditorium with a live audience.

In recent years this has been balanced out by allowing the three broadcasters who are voting in the respective Semi Finals to work through the dress rehearsals and to have a postcard-length portion of their song aired on the night alongside an artist interview. The former balances out stage time, but the latter still falls short.

This change addresses the latter. The songs will now be performed in situ. A postcard will be in front of them. The full three minutes will be performed live, and the rush of a live audience in the Malmö Arena and at home will be shared. They are as equal as anybody else, expect they don’t need to worry about the stress of qualifying on the night.

It Helps The Budget

Liverpool 2023 saw each automatic qualifier gifted a thirty-second interview and a sixty-second snippet of their song as part of the Interval Act of the two Semi Finals. By changing this to a full three-minute song, plus the associated minute for the postcards, set-up, and title card, the overall show has gained seven and a half minutes of runtime without adding materially to the budget of the show.

As the Eurovision Song Contest entry list decreases, the EBU has essentially added six more songs to the Semi-Finals. More of the Semi-Finals will now be taken up by Eurovision entries, and the pure Semi-Final interval acts can now be shorter… This could save on the budget, or more of the same budget will be condensed into a smaller window, both of which are benefits to the production.

Making More Magic Moments

There’s no doubt that the addition of three more songs offers three more moments that can capture the attention of the fans and the media.

This is the moment for the automatic qualifiers to shine. Think about the staging and potential big prop moments. Previously, the build-up to any reveal would be curtailed because of the one-minute limit. Now, everything can be seen as intended. Sam Ryder’s Crystal Maze opening would be on show in its full glory if this had been part of the Turin 2022 presentation.

There’s no doubt that moment could have been a viral video sensation.

And that’s what we might see this year. Following Ryder’s ‘Spaceman’, expectations will be high that the BBC’s Olly Alexander can bring a similarly ‘wow’ moment for the United Kingdom. If his first recent live performance is anything to go by, we will have a lot of ‘Dizzy’ videos on Tuesday night rather than Sunday morning.

It would be more beneficial for the Song Contest to have these viral sensations before the season finale.

Disrupting The Viewer Experience

One area that has caused pause for thought is… how this is going to work as a viewing experience because each Semi Final will have three songs that are not in competition, yet these songs will be mixed into the running order of the songs that are in competition.

While the exact running order and the process of slotting in the automatic qualifiers has not been confirmed, consider this. You could have five Semi Final songs, one Big Five song, two Semi Final Songs, another Big Five song, six Semi Final songs, the final Big Five song, and then the final two Semi Final songs.

Think for a moment how this is going to feel to the viewers at home. The simple flow of listen to the songs and vote for your favourite now comes caveated with ‘the next song doesn’t count, but please enjoy it anyway.’ Not everyone is hyper-focused on what’s happening in the run-up to the Contest, and not everyone is leaning forward and watching intently every moment of the show.

While the team at SVT have scripted out the hosts’ introduction to these songs, and put together briefing notes for the commentators, this has yet to be tested on a general audience. Unlike changes made by SVT in 2013 and 2016, this hasn’t been tried out in Melodifestivalen, nor has the EBU been able to try out a similar system at Junior Eurovision.

Rehearsals are there to find and fix issues in the presentation, both of the songs and the overall show. Once we get to May we’ll see how well will this flow and how easy it is for the public to understand when non-competing songs appear directly alongside their competition.

Voting Lines Open Earlier, But Only For The Grand Final

While Voting Lines will be opened as the first song takes to the stage in the Grand Final (about fifteen minutes into the show), this is not the case for the two Semi Finals. There, the old procedure of voting lines opening after all the songs have been performed remains.

The rationale here is that viewers at home will not have seen any of the live performances before the start of the Semi Finals (the official videos and album release don’t count) so it wouldn’t be a fair vote, hence leaving the voting lines opening until later in the show.

Once the Grand Final comes around, all of the live performances will be available on YouTube to watch, so viewers can vote on actual performances, albeit not the performance that will be seen on Saturday night. While the rules ask for broadly similar performances, there may be a larger element of voting on the name or the nationality when the voting lines open.

Picking Up Engagement Throughout The Broadcast

Allowing voting throughout the show allows more people to engage with the broadcast and participate in voting. The Grand Final is a scheduled four-hour-long spectacle that ends at around 0100 CEST every year, with voting usually being open around 2250 CET or thereabouts. One aspect about allowing voting earlier in the broadcast is that you allow, in particular, younger voters and families to vote for their favourites and then tuck themselves into bed and wait until the morning to watch the results.

It also is a change that we have increasingly seen in numerous National Finals across Europe during the recent decade that voting can take place during the show, and indeed SVT’s own Melodifestivalen allows voting in each show from one hour before each broadcast begins.

A Second Screen With Competitive Value

The Eurovision Song Contest does have a mobile app, and it has been possible (depending on region) for the app to allow the user to vote for their favourite songs in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Alongside voting another feature that the app had last year was the ability to ‘clap’ while a song performed, a way of showing your appreciation for a song before the voting lines were open. This clapping feature has been removed as its purpose is no longer needed. If you enjoy a Eurovision song today then during the Grand Final you can vote as soon as you wish to.

The EBU has quoted “millions of engagements on the app” in recent years during the show. If only a fraction of these were converted into votes then that could be a factor in increasing the amount of viewers casting a vote while the show is taking place.

Voting Before The Show …For Some

The Rest of the World vote can now cast votes in the Grand Final before the finale takes place, as well as a voting window during the Grand Final itself. The number of votes in both sections will be added to create the classic “douze to one” points from the ROTW’s voting public. The vote will be active from the day before the Grand Final takes place, after the acts have performed in the Friday night dress rehearsal.

This is a similar presentation style and voting window opportunity as we get with the Junior Eurovision Song Contest each autumn, where voters can vote in the days before the competition and also once again after each song has performed on the live show. A recap video must be watched prior to voting before the show at Junior Eurovision, and we understand this will be the same for the Rest of the World vote in May as well.

There will be twenty votes per voter allowed prior to the show, and this number will be reset so twenty more votes can be cast during the broadcast as well. Similar to Junior Eurovision we expect this move will help viewers be more engaged, particularly those in different time zones to Europe that may struggle to watch live.

We Used To Vote Throughout The Show

The Eurovision Song Contest of 2010 and 2011 were also editions where voting was open from as the first song stepped on stage and kept open until voting closed long after all had performed on stage.

In theory we may believe that this would help songs drawn earlier in the show, as viewers who like an entry would be able to vote for them in the moment. However there’s little evidence to suggest that running order bias has been impacted by this.

Both the 2010 and 2011 Eurovision Song Contests were won by performances that were towards the end of the show (drawn 22nd and 19th, respectively), and correlation analysis between the starting position and the jury points trends weakly positively (meaning later is better) over the two editions (+0.24 for juries and +0.18 for televoters). This is roughly what is observed for Song Contests outside of this period; there is a small trend towards an increased chance of more success if you are later in the running order, suggesting that this voting change in the Grand Final will make little impact.

However, one aspect that has changed in this time period is with Contest viewership, who are far more likely to have a second screen in their hand while watching, and with that far more likely to engage and arguably want to vote while a performance is taking place. Time will tell if voting throughout the show does make an impact and reduce any running order bias, though there is little evidence from history to suggest this.

Conclusion: Does This Have Any Competitive Impact?

While these are changes to the voting at the Eurovision Song Contest, the immediate conclusion is that these changes will not materially impact the competitive results.

In the past three editions of the Song Contest we have seen four of the Big 5 countries on the podium, with Italy winning it all in 2021. Yes, squeezing the pre-qualified acts in-between the competing Semi Finalists will see them get more publicity, but there is no reason to suggest that any unfairness from this has been a factor to their success on Saturday night.

A change to make the Rest of the World vote more accessible to others is a good step to make the Song Contest more accessible to its widening viewership. However the Rest of the World vote makes up just 1/38th of the points from the public in a system that we believe remains half jury, half public vote. Should that change, the scoreboard in any way is likely to have a tiny change if any at all.

Finally, the changes to the ability to vote during the show made little difference to how the 2010 and 2011 Song Contests played out, and it would be hard to speculate that such a system would be any different today.

This may not make a significant difference on the scoreboard, but it does make a significant difference to the engagement of the Song Contest. It allows more people to participate in the voting part of the show and allows the acts to compete on a fairer playing field. That is no bad thing for the Song Contest to aim for and deliver on.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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2 responses to “Nine Things You Need To Know About Eurovision’s Exciting Changes”

  1. Wow. Just as I was mentioning that the competition-elements must be professionalized -or when people slowly need to be prepared for a more honest and professional competition- one of my wishes will be fulfilled: the Big 5 must perform in the running order of the other semi-finalists. Will it will look unfair, as they will still be in the grand final, it’s obviously done to slowly prepare us for cancellation of the elitist BIG 5 rule. I can understand that within the snap of the fingers cancelling the BIG 5 would result in protests from those BIG 5 broadcasters. However, by doing it like this, the EBU can say somewhere in 2029 or 2023: “And now, because of growing criticism, it’s time to also open the voting window to those BIG 5 countries; that they also need to earn a spot in the Grand Final”. Good news on the whole Ben.

  2. Monica says:

    A couple of things, from the USA

    You missed that in addition to capturing the younger voting demographic this early voting change will also capture the older voters. My son and I used to have to phone my sister in Madrid, wake her, and help her groggily submit our votes. Now she could submit our votes early and go to bed:) Of course now we can vote ourselves, but my point remains, and if it was held in my time zone I would also have trouble staying awake to vote so late in the evening.

    I can see both sides of the Big 5 (6) performing in the semi-finals. What it takes away though is the anticipation and excitement of waiting for them on Saturday night. By Saturday morning we have our favorites – except that we are still waiting to see how the 6 stage and perform. It’s often a case of ‘this is our favorite, UNLESS, this country really pulls out the stops on Saturday’. That’s a big draw for staying up late, and a big piece of the excitement for us. I think I know that we could find rehearsals online but we don’t, preferring to hold on to the anticipation, like unopened presents on Christmas Eve.

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